Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Glenn Tucker | It’s the teachers who can’t understand PEP

Published:Wednesday | July 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
1
2

Some months before the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exams, there were claims that the students were confused. Now, the results are out and the entire country is confused.

The Ministry of Education claims vindication, but the Jamaica Teachers’ Association smells a rat. There are also claims that the performances were less than stellar and that the high schools will have to do a lot of remedial work.

Interestingly, although our book list was much shorter, when I attended high school, I can’t remember many persons failing exams. Then, grammar was abandoned, CXC was introduced and grades one and two were passes. The results were not good.

To solve this problem, the standard for passing was lowered to grade three. But even those who pass several subjects seem to experience difficulty in a variety of learning situations.

DEVELOPING COGNITIVE SKILLS

I get the impression that PEP was intended to increase the cognitive awareness of children – a laudable objective. And with its introduction, former Education Minister Ruel Reid may have given this country its greatest gift. That is because our children are not performing. And the key to solving persistent learning challenges is to strengthen the child’s cognitive skills.

Cognition refers to the process of thinking. Cognitive skills are the core skills one’s brain uses to think, read, remember, understand, plan, prioritise, and solve problems.

The reason many teachers are failing is because they are focusing on academic skills, which is quite different. Academic skills are the knowledge of various subjects – maths, history, science, etc. Cognitive skills are the mental competencies needed to master academic subjects. It is this that I am not sure many teachers understand.

Even those who understand may find that many students are coming to them with weak cognitive skills – short attention span, poor reading skills – without which, learning is all but lost. So, many children are not processing the information they are receiving from sources around them.

My problem with PEP is that many teachers just do not understand it. Some have weak cognitive skills themselves. The whole matter of developing cognitive skills should consume a disproportionate amount of the curriculum in teachers’ colleges. That’s how critical it is.

It cannot be a crash course offered to teachers, most of whom are unwilling or unable to grasp the concepts. It is weak cognitive skills why students are failing at every level in Jamaica. That is what is responsible for the paucity of ideas in science and technology, planning, policy and business matters, indiscipline, as well as solving simple personal problems. These skills can be developed at any age, but children develop cognitive skills rapidly in the first five years of life and build on them progressively thereafter.

Parents, therefore, have a critical role to play. There are simple exercises and games that they can engage in with their children that I guarantee will give them an excellent start in school. Fostering your child’s cognitive development from as soon as he or she is born provides the foundation for success in school and later in life.

At the risk of offending some, I am going to recommend that the teachers sit the PEP exam. The results can be kept secret. But proving my point may spur the powers that be to action.

While the teachers are still angry, let me also say that for as long as I can remember, they have always resisted new ideas. This is forgivable in any other profession.

Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com.